Book reviews – surviving a toxic workplace

by 04 Jun 2010

We’ve all been told about the importance of talent management as the economy rebounds, but often hear about the same old practices. Tom Washington reviews three books to spark some new ideas

01 Retooling HR – Using Proven Business Tools to Make Better Decisions About Talent

John W. Boudreau

Havard Business Press $35

HR professionals have made major strides towards becoming strategic partners. But they need to do more – by generating value through savvy decisions about talent.

HR leaders typically assume that to make such decisions they must develop sophisticated analytical tools from scratch. Even then, the resulting tools often fail to engage their peers.

In Retooling HR, John Boudreau shows how HR leaders can break this cycle – by adapting powerful analytical tools already used by other functions to meet the unique challenges of talent management.

Drawing on his research and examples from companies including Google, Disney, IBM and Microsoft, Boudreau explains six proven business tools that leaders already use. And he shows how HR can apply these tools to talent management, such as applying logistics tools to optimise succession planning and leadership development, and adapting customer research tools to find untapped value in total reward.

The book’s value comes in its real-life case studies of top-drawer organisations, and for HR practitioners finding the need for a change of tact when it comes to talent management, it is full of useful pointers.

02 Workforce of One – Revolutionising Talent Management Through Customisation

Susan M. Cantrell & David Smith

Harvard Business Press $55

Billed as ‘a game-changing approach to talent management’, this book has much to live up to.

In Workforce of One, Accenture’s Susan M. Cantrell and David Smith argue that in a competitive global marketplace that now includes four generations of employees with widely diverse backgrounds, values and skill sets, companies that want to hire and keep the best talent will need to treat individual employees as a ‘workforce of one’. This means replacing generic practices with strategies tailored to each person’s unique strengths, motivations, interests, learning styles and career desires.

While this may sound daunting, the authors show that the very HR practices that enabled standardisation and cost control in talent management are now providing a platform for a new era of technology-enabled customisation.

Based on extensive Accenture research in over one hundred organisations, Workforce of One outlines four approaches employers can take – segmentation, modular choice, broad and simple rules, and employee-defined personalisation – to offer customised work experiences to employees without sacrificing control, scalability, or manageability.

As far as achieving the goal of creating work that is sculpted to fit lives, instead of lives sculpted to fit work, this book is a genuinely useful tool. It is detailed enough to apply practically and authoritative enough to have complete faith in.

03 Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder – Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce

Jody Heymann

Harvard Business Press - $55

It is said that employees are responsible for 90 per cent of a company’s profitability. Yet many firms assume that only their highly-skilled, best-educated workers are worth investing in – and that cutting wages and benefits for the workers at the bottom of the corporate ladder is a fast and effective way to improve the bottom line.

In his eye-opening book, researcher Jody Heymann shatters this myth, and provides convincing evidence that investing in front-line employees has a powerful and positive impact of corporate profitability. Far more than being expendable, Heymann describes how low-skilled workers such as call centre operators, factory workers, cashiers and repair personnel strongly influence product quality, customer service and company reputation.

Again this book draws upon real-life examples of working conditions, demonstrating how employers have excelled financially by offering their least-skilled employees higher pay, flexible working opportunities, training and career development, and more.

In today’s economic climate, where key skills are often at a premium, HR professionals will do well to heed the lessons learnt in this book. It can be wordy at times and require some in-depth analysis, but the case studies are varied and the ultimate goal of profit is never far from reader’s thoughts.

Most Read